Addicted to Love -- Film Review

Senior-citizen romance in a smoggy Chinese city has charm, but is slow and over-long beyond the point of exasperation.

SAN SEBASTIAN -- There's a very nice little 80 or 90 minute film lurking within the nearly two-hour running-time of "Addicted To Love" ("Lao na"), but writer/director Liu Hao and editor Hu Zhi Kai simply haven't managed to find it.

Instead, this sensitively handled tale of geriatric passion is yet another example of film-makers confusing over-length with significance, a fashion. Digitally-shot, no-budget Chinese independent cinema continues to flourish, but this is, in its present patience-taxing form, an underwhelming example of the genre.

"Getting old now, can't remember much" sighs eightyish widower Mr. Na (Niu En Pu), who in the twilight of his years maintains a regular daily routine in his bustling city-center neighborhood. His adult children pop in to see him now and then, but -- obvious shades of Ozu's enduringly influential Tokyo Story (1950) -- they are preoccupied with their own financial and emotional issues.

They start to take more notice in their dad, however, when he strikes up a friendship with old flame Mrs. Li (Jieng Mei Hua), who is becoming increasingly infirm due to Alzheimer's Disease, but who retains some fond memories of her decades-ago romance with Mr. Na. ("Why didn't you pick me, when we were young?" he plaintively asks.) Na and Li find themselves very tentatively drifting back together, a development which causes concern for both sets of families, who are worried that their loved one may suffer unneccessary emotional stress.

Such fears are misplaced. The elderly "couple," far from embarking on some kind of torrid affair, instead enjoy little outings to fast-food restaurants or simply sit alongside each other on benches watching the world go by. ("So many people in this city. Changing so fast.") Niu and Jieng make for a most appealing duo, and there's no mistaking the warm-heartedness with which Liu traces, via Li Bing Qiang's digital-video cinematography, the slow-burning rebirth of their mutual affection.

But individual shots and scenes tend to outstay their welcome, resulting in a movie which seems a little too pleased with its cautious, gentle sensitivity. The film could do with a little more low-key humor that helps sustain the early stretches. Later on, the baldly titled Addicted To Love becomes a bit of a repetitive, directionless slog. It's unfortunate that the excessively enigmatic, puzzlingly dream-like closing sequence is the least satisfying element of the whole picture.

Venue: San Sebastian International Film Festival
Production companies: Golden Picture, Beijing; Conossieurs Prod.
Cast: Niu En Pu, Jieng Mei Hua
Director/screenwriter: Liu Hao
Producers: Liu Hao, Teresa Kwong
Director of photography: Li Bing Qiang
Production designer: Yang Farong
Costume designer: Shen Bo
Editor: Hu Zhi Kai
Sales: Liu Hao Studio, Beijing
No rating, 113 minutes